I had seen her work in New York, though what I saw was rather narrow in scope compared to what she made throughout her career. Last year, when I was up at Anderson Ranch in Aspen, I sat down in the library and perused a book of Helen Frankenthaler’s complete works. The catalog captured the many nuanced directions within Color Field painting she explored. Page after page, diluted yet rich pigments dissolve and seep into nearby haloed soak-stains. Lingering lines in turn became more defined while flowing through narrow necks of one-time wetness into new residual pools. Each neighboring mark seems to impregnate, either by definition or by dissolution, other areas of the canvas with visual interest.
She created worlds at once colossal and fast while also subtly complex. Her hand and brush seemed to know when to take hold of the direction of the painting and when to let gravity and the painting itself lead with full reign. Helen Frankenthaler, brilliant Color Field painter who breathed big life into American Abstraction, died on December 27th, 2011 at the age of 83. She is still an important painter—still offering bridges, vaporous trails for me.